American-born interior designer Christopher Noto was not exactly planning to buy an apartment in Paris. He already owned one—in a Haussmann-era building near the Palais-Royal. But one day in 2011, he found himself waiting on a sidewalk in the 7th arrondissement just as a "for sale" sign was unrolled on a neighboring building. He'd always loved the district and, on the spur of the moment, he decided to call. "I was waiting for the last number to appear to punch it in," he remembers. "The woman who answered said, 'We already have 15 appointments,' to which I replied, 'How can you? You've only just put up the sign!' "
A 19th-century iron-and-marble garden table serves as a desk outside the bedroom; the chair is in the style of Louis XV, the lamp is a custom design, and the curtains are of a Holland & Sherry cashmere.
Within days, he'd seen the apartment and made an offer. But then he started to get cold feet. "I thought, Am I mad? I've got another flat to sell in order to buy this one," he says. Just as he was about to pull out, a couple of friends fortuitously came for drinks at his place near the Palais-Royal. "They said, 'Chris, if you ever come across someone in Paris selling an apartment like this, we'd love to buy it,'" he recalls. And that's exactly what happened. "It was meant to be," he adds. "Things really fell into place providentially."
A Khmer sandstone statue and a Ming Dynasty garden ornament in the entryway.
His new 1,249-square-foot pied-à-terre, in a building dating from the 1820s, was in a pitiful state. "It was a wreck," he declares laconically. "There was a giant Ikea kitchen in the center, and three dark little bedrooms, and a hallway in the back." Rather more appealing were some of the period details he managed to salvage. "This is what sold me more than anything," he says, pointing to a window handle sculpted with a caryatid's head. "I go crazy for things like that."
The bedroom's animal drawings include works by Paul Jouve, Georges Lucien Guyot, and André Margat, the bed is a custom design, the rug is an antique Persian, the 19th-century chandelier is by Baguès, the curtains are of a Holland & Sherry tweed, and the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's Wevet.
The cornice and parquet in the living room are also original, but almost everything else in the apartment are his additions, including the wall paneling and gilded double doors that lead to the living room, as well as the traditional stone flooring in the entry foyer, which was repurposed from an old farmhouse. "I always have the feeling with apartments that if you put something into them, they give you something back," Noto says firmly. "I like to respect the original style."
The circa-1910 dining table is English, the Louis XV–style linen-covered chairs are trimmed with ribbon by Houlès with a Jim Thompson silk on the backs, the marble fireplace is original to the apartment, and the painting dates from the late 17th or early 18th century.
With the exception of the double living room, the rest of the flat was completely reconfigured. The kitchen is tiny, in spite of the fact that Noto loves to cook. "I've turned out dinners for 12 in there," he insists. "It's a question of organization. And I love to have everything within arm's reach." He also wanted to be able to put up guests for the night but was not keen on the idea of a second bedroom that would sit dormant for much of the year. Instead, he created a hybrid space off the entrance with a red velvet lantern, Qing Dynasty chairs, and a daybed where friends can rest their heads.
The daybed and light fixture in the entryway are custom designs, the Chinese chair and side table are from the Qing Dynasty, the 1939 painting was found at a Paris flea market, the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's Cornforth White, and the 19th-century marble tiles came from a farmhouse.
The mix of Franco-Asian furnishings throughout is very much a reflection of Noto's life. He was brought up in Washington, D.C., and spent his junior year abroad in the French capital. "I was almost the classic portrait of the American in Paris," he admits, "just overwhelmed by the beauty of everything." Although he relocated back to New York at the end of last year, he had previously spent more than two decades based in Singapore, where he still maintains a showroom for his made-to-measure furniture and accessories (among his best clients is the Aman hotel group).
In the living room of the Paris apartment of designer Christopher Noto, the sofa, which is upholstered in a Rubelli velvet, and the cocktail table are custom designs, the Louis XV chairs are covered in antique linens, the floor lamp is by Stéphane Olivier, and the 17th-century Buddha by the doorway is from Thailand; the Italian pendant light is from the 1960s, the rug is sisal, the flooring is original to the apartment, and the walls and trim are painted in Farrow & Ball's Cornforth White, Wevet, and a custom blue-green mix.
In his Paris living room, the 18th-century Louis XV armchairs are juxtaposed with whalebones from Sumatra, a 17th-century Thai Buddha, and a 12th- or 13th-century gilt-copper head from Tibet. On either side of the fireplace sit 17th-century Chinese oak benches. Noto's affinity for furniture from the East apparently dates from an early age. "I remember being attracted in museums to the Ming pieces, which were just, to me, the most pure, simple, elegant, and timeless—and in some cases, even futuristic-looking," he says. Today, he feels their rusticity serves as a perfect foil to the supreme finesse of French furniture. To add a little extra roughness, he upholstered some of the living room seating with gunnysack. "I just love the feeling it gives," he says.
Noto on his balcony.
Yet not everything is completely classical. Noto recently installed a pair of Italian 1960s brass chandeliers that hang like giant earrings. "I'm having this moment of wanting more modernity," he says. "I've gone on a voyage of discovery of 1960s and '70s Italian furniture, and I am just in love with so many things." He doesn't actually have to go that far to find it. His apartment is at the very heart of the Left Bank gallery district. "To me, this is the best spot for everything," he declares. "I walk out the door and instantly get inspired. Just this morning, I found two pieces for clients on my way to buy some milk!"